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During the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic there has been a considerable rise in dog ownership in the UK.[1] This has combined with a greater awareness of the importance of wellness and how dog ownership can help to improve wellbeing.[2]  With Spring and the desire to enjoy the open air and green spaces there is real potential to bring new audiences to heritage sites. As individuals looking to spend time with their new dog, visiting heritage sites together for the first time, or changing the way they visit sites to accommodate a new furry friend, can pets be made more welcome at Heritage sites?

In addition to exercise, an added benefit of allowing pet dogs access to heritage sites is the probability that they may add to an ‘authentic’ experience for visitors. Historically, dogs and humans have long been a part of the working landscape.[3]  Through DNA analysis, dog domestication has been traced to the end of the last ice age, 11,000 ago.[4] Archaeological evidence, historic images, and written accounts would suggest that that this companionship has been far more than just a working relationship for most of this time.[5]

By reintroducing dogs back into heritage sites an opportunity is created for visitors to gain a better understanding of how historic landscapes were once worked by animals as well as people. For example, by allowing visitors to take their pet dogs into the kennels at a historic country house, this area maybe bought back to life not just for the dog’s owners but for other visitors as well.[6]

The heritage industry works to balance duties to allow access to the past, and to enrich lives, with responsibilities to safeguard visitors and protect heritage for future generations.[7] Where access for dogs is considered, traditionally, this access has been limited to a legal duty to allow assistance dogs (most often Guide Dogs used by blind and visually impaired visitors and hearing assistance Guide Dogs) as endorsed by the Equality Act, 2010.[8]  Although, many heritage sites now include some form of pet dog access as a part of their offer, it is important to recognise the clear distinction between working assistance dogs and pet dogs. Assistance dogs support their owners by helping them navigate the world independently and safely. [9] By contrast, access for pet dogs is, primarily, for the pleasure and enjoyment of the dog owner and the dog.

When it comes to allowing pet dogs access to heritage sites, several factors need to be considered.  Widening access for dogs can widen access for dog owners and, by providing a regular audience of dog walkers, it can raise profile and help a site stay open. Allowing pet dogs may, however, present some access concerns for those who have fears, allergies, or simply do not wish to around dogs.

An important further consideration in allowing pet dogs into heritage sites is their effect on conservation and property management. The potential challenges of this issue are complex, my research suggests that key themes are likely to include the potential introduction of pest species, an increase in dust and humidity, or even the dreaded lawn burn marks.[10]

The potential benefits of allowing pet dogs into heritage sites are significant, including the potential to engage new audiences. My research suggests that there is opportunity for more dog friendly areas with facilities such as water bowls. However, in order to fully understand the effects of becoming dog friendly in a way that also supports heritage preservation more research is required, especially in terms of conservation. When real world data is available that aids in our understanding of how dogs effect heritage sites, both negatively and positively, it may be possible to examine creating other pet friendly areas of heritage, which may include reconsidering access for our other four legged friends, such as the introduction of horse friendly bridle paths across larger heritage sites. Similar adaptations have the potential to bring more working animals safely back into heritage landscapes.

Victoria Bounds graduated in Archaeology at the University of Chester in 2018 and is completing her MSc Sustainable Heritage Practice Dissertation, supervised by Dr Morn Capper, at University Centre Shrewsbury. Book your place on our History and Archaeology Postgraduate Information Event on the 26th May.

Photo credits: Victoria Bounds and Morn Capper.

[1] Rebekah Fox, 'Has COVID-19 Changed Our Relationship With Pets And Other Animals?’, Warwick Knowledge Centre, 2020 <https://warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/knowledgecentre/society/sociology/an... [Accessed 12 January 2021].

[2]  Ana Maria Barcelos and others, ‘A Framework For Understanding How Activities Associated With Dog Ownership Relate To Human Well-Being’, Scientific Reports, 10 (2020) <https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-68446-9> [Accessed 12 January 2021]; Helen Chatterjee and Guy Noble, Museums, Health And Well-Being (Taylor & Francis Group, 2013).

[3] Alan M Beck, The Human-Dog Relationship: A Tale Of Two Species (Wallingford: CABI, 2000), p. 4.

[4] Anders Bergström and others, ‘Origins And Genetic Legacy Of Prehistoric Dogs’, Science, 370.6516 (2020), 557-564 <https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aba9572> [Accessed 12 January 2021]

[5] Jon Franklin, The Wolf In The Parlor (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2010).

[6] Laurajane Smith and Natsuko Akagawa, Intangible Heritage (London: Routledge, 2009), p. 293.

[7] Brian Goodall, ‘Disabled Access and Heritage Attractions’, Tourism Culture & Communication, 7.1 (2006), p. 58.

[8] Equality Act 2010 (legislation.gov.uk: UK Government, 2006).

[9] ADUK, ‘About|ADUK’, Assistancedogs.Org.Uk, 2021 <https://www.assistancedogs.org.uk/about/> [Accessed 18 March 2021].

[10] A. Wayne Allard, ‘Lawn Burn From Dog Urine’, Canine Practice, 8.2 (1981), p. 27.

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